Sometimes a quick toast is to say, "To Health!" or "To Love!"
What "To Health!" or "To Love!" means is clear from the words themselves. But "To Life!" ...? "To Life!" is on an altogether different level, as toasts go.
"To Life! ... and all the glasses clank together as they smile and nod together, and toast again.
What "To Life!" means (for those participating in the toast) cannot be as easily explained. It is understood, and understood better as one lives on to experience life. It may mean that life is wonderful, or happy, or joyful, and, for that they are grateful. Yet, it may mean that life is terrible, or sad, or even unbearably painful, and then, there is hope that better times are ahead. Life is what it is: sad and happy, wonderful and terrible, all rolled up together. The meaning is never discussed at the table; everybody just seems to understand.
Those who make a toast "To Life" embrace it all! And that sets them apart, as not everyone toasts "To Life!" anymore. It is understood (by those who toast "To Life!") that whatever life brings, it is a gift, a blessing, mysteriously meaningful and wondrous, and through it all there is friendship, the opportunity to love and be loved, and, there is a purpose. It is the life given to us by God. And because we acknowledge Him, because we revere Him, we are utterly grateful! We understand the sacredness of this life, and we do not lightly discard what He has given!
Whatever cards we are dealt, we play the game till the end, living the best we know how, till the Dealer takes the cards back, and the game is finally over. We don't fold; we don't flee, we don't protest. We don't yank the cards out of other players' hands; we don't force them from the game. We accept what we are given and make the most of it. We know there is a purpose to it all, and that it has everything to do with His will for us, with our growth in understanding and following His way, not our way.
Those who do not make the toast "To Life!" are not interested in His way or Him. They don't even consider Him at all in their deliberations. They think nothing of yanking the cards out of other players' hands, forcing them from the game and destroying the sacred gift of life, whenever it suits their fancy.
For those who embrace life and value its lessons, there is more to life than meets the eye; there is a spiritual element to living, serving, and caring, even in health care ... especially in health care.
The ethics guiding the decision-making of those who embrace life
The economic "ethics" of those who place personal or corporate gain above the value of the lives of the vulnerable is repulsive to those who care more about the patients they serve. Those who care about each individual are inspired by others who have gone before, who fought "the good fight," who never quit, never complained, and held their heads high even while they faced many obstacles.
The good fighter never surrenders till the fight is either won or lost. He gives it everything he has, holding nothing back. Adjusting the strategy till an opening is found, moving this way and then that, he finds a way to succeed and win, or lose. The competition for the prize is fierce. This is the reality of life: "win or lose." But in life, fighting the good fight is what makes one the winner. The "fight," how we choose to go through life, the process of life, is everything.
The greatness of those who serve is not a greatness that makes for big headlines, but is a greatness that makes them loved and respected by the many they have touched through the years.
The good fighter cannot afford to lazily put off training, to be unskilled or careless if he is to win. He cannot refuse to play. He cannot afford to pretend the competition does not exist. He knows that he will face tremendous challenges. Whatever strategy he chooses, it is all part of the great and mysterious game of life, played out within this world for all to see.
Our reverence for life cannot be conveyed in a catchphrase such as our being "prolife" or our belief that we all have a "right to life." Labels are convenient. They are also misleading. We are not just "pro" life, but of life! And we understand life in an utterly different way from those who eagerly end lives. We understand the gift that life is.
We "give thanks to God for His kindness, and for His wonders to mankind." Psalms (107:22)
Our perception of life is completely foreign to the thinking of those who care nothing about Him or those He has created. They do not hesitate to say who should be, or who should cease to be. They cannot even imagine that they might be arrogant in usurping His role in determining when and how a life finally comes to its end.
Yet, who is to say that this one or that one is not worthy of continuing to play the game? The Dealer has dealt everyone a hand. Everyone is given the chance. It is not for them, or me, ... or you, to say, "he should not be allowed to play!" ... "she should not be allowed to live!
"It is not for any of us to say that the Creator made a mistake in dealing out these cards and creating these players. Or do you think Him a cheater? a fool? a failure? or simply mistaken? Those who care nothing for Him believe that if He exists, he must be a fool as well as mistaken! They think that with all the suffering in this world, and all the problems, ... how could He be anything other?
"They know better" they believe they "know."
We do not always understand why He allows suffering. We don't understand why he allows "imperfection," but we do not make the rules. Everyone, yes everyone is "imperfect" in His eyes! It is only our own arrogance, or our greed, that would make us ascribe "perfection" to ourselves yet label others as "unworthy" of life.
How would you like it if you were selected for the "special treatment" of an imposed death, whether by gun, gas chamber or the professional and "peaceful" (but just as lethal) "gift" that a willing medical killer is ever ready to give. If not you, why another? Why not you?
This world is like a huge ocean-going cruise-liner setting out upon a voyage. At times, there's only smooth sailing, "fun and sun." Yet at any moment, dark brooding clouds may rush in bringing storms and walls of water that could sweep everything away, bringing a swift and untimely end to it all. Expert captains and sailors are needed to maintain direction, speed, control and safety.
Leaders of nations, like captains sailing upon the sea, set forces in motion that affect everyone "on board." Our current leaders are steering society into known and very treacherous seas. Their ideas, like vessels, sail swiftly from sea to sea and nation to nation.
The eugenics belief that some people are worthy of life while others should never even have been born traveled from the USA to Germany in the 1930s, affecting the practice of German physicians who laid the foundation for what would later become the Nazi T-4 euthanasia program, and even later, the Holocaust.
The global society, like that ocean-going cruise-liner, involves everyone on board. In every land where euthanasia or assisted suicide is legalized, there are some whose lives are swept away, thrown overboard into the jaws of death. Though a very small number willingly jump to their own demise, many more are pressured to die for the economic gain of others, of states or of nations. Euthanasia practiced in one continent threatens to sweep away the vulnerable in other lands.
Those who promote a utilitarian view of life have never disappeared; they have not renounced their views. They have merely bided their time, worked diligently, incrementally, to achieve worldwide acceptance for their deadly philosophy. They have spread their ideas in the universities. They have spread their ideas in the medical and nursing schools, in the halls of government, economics, and the political backrooms. And, they have spread their ideas in the media. They do not toast "To Life!" They do not toast to the Giver of this life. They merely look to the so-called "quality of life" and then arbitrarily decide who shall live and who shall die.
Examined, or unexamined, these widely accepted societal beliefs exert a pressure on all of us. Whether we are aware or unaware of this influence, most of us make choices which are supported, even strongly encouraged, by those societal representatives around us. Who are these pivotal societal representatives? Increasingly, it is the doctors, nurses, social workers and attorneys who urge us to look at the "quality" of life and then decide what to do (facilitate the death of the vulnerable). They do not advise us to recognize that there is life, sacred life. They do not advise us to protect that life!
Many, many thousands of us have chosen to "let" an elderly parent "go" even though they were not actively dying based upon this societal trend. And while nurses and doctors nod, entice, encourage and even berate, we increasingly succumb to the pressure to hasten death by depriving the parent of water and medications. Many have been misled to believe that choosing to deprive a vulnerable elder of food, water and medications before they are actively dying is "letting nature take its course." Nothing could be further from the truth.
Decisions to neglect the vulnerable directly result in their death; it is now a common form of imposing death, euthanasia. Not only is it a common form of imposing death, it is now the common form of dying. Who dies a natural death today? Who is allowed to live without some help, some extra "something," some push over the edge into death?
Add a little unneeded morphine for "comfort" as the vulnerable wither away and die, and you have stepped from compassion to killing. Rather than caring for these, we are now collectively throwing so many of them off the cliffs of life into the abyss.
The silence of our collective but hidden guilt screams out and mingles with the voiceless pleas of the deliberately made dead.
These choices, multiplied throughout recent generations, have now completely tainted the health care environment. These choices have planted fear in the minds of the vulnerable elderly, disabled and chronically ill, who no longer can trust whether their life will be respected or ended at a time of need. Caregivers who value the lives before them fear losing their careers and worse, should they refuse to follow deadly but daily orders to harm the vulnerable.
They risk all if they now do what once was the only thing to do: honor life.
Those who revel at the thought of controlling who may live and who shall die sooner reason that certain groups of others are expendable. They justify their thoughts, decisions and actions, and never allow themselves to recognize what it is they are destroying. They point to the economic "benefits" to society and the (to them) "holy" budget, while filling their own pockets and increasing their power over others.
They say that others should not be permitted to live. They say that some should not have even been permitted to be born. A dark spirit (opposite to that which inspires the "Special Olympics" for the disabled) guides them. They do not celebrate the lives of the disabled or elderly; they stamp them out whenever and as quickly as they can.
Yes, we have seen this before, and where did that all end? Mountains of corpses consumed in the fiery ovens of Auschwitz! Evil medical experimentation upon individuals regarded as less than human because they were of another race, or another ability! And no surprise, these same policymakers say it is "ok" to experiment upon the vulnerable, or the disabled, or the mentally ill, in order to benefit the rest of society.
Shall we go down that road again? Do we really want to devalue some, choosing to use their lives and then end their lives, simply because we declare them "better off dead?" Where will it end this time?
Do those who kill so glibly really "live?" They kill those who (according to them) have a low quality of life, yet what about their own "quality of life?" Can the killers know what is killed? Can the victimizer appreciate the loss of those they slay? Do they sit on the porch watching the leaves flutter in the wind like the strikingly brief lives of men and wonder what it all means? Do they recognize that every drop in the ocean of life sparkles with the life of the Creator? Can they truly appreciate the life they toss away so blithely? No!
Do these killers really live? Though now powerful and societally persuasive, do they have the quality of life enjoyed by those who value life and adore its Creator? Hardly! They are robotic zombies, living without any idea of the harm they do, living without any insight into the purpose of life, though they fancy themselves the wisest of all time.
It is easy for them to snuff out a life, but they cannot create a life. They brag about "creating" lives through cloning though all they are doing is manipulating the materials of life given to them by One infinitely more powerful and wise. Their goal is to create "perfection," never recognizing the fatal and evil consequences of their plan. They award themselves prizes for manipulating materials, yet deny credit to the Genius from which all of this wonderful world arises.
Not one scientist has ever created a human life, or any life, from scratch, ... from the elemental atoms and molecules that make up our universe. Life comes from life! Life! We do not create it, but we are witnesses to it and participants in it.
Who cannot but wonder when looking out upon the ocean's endless waves or the vast reaches of space? Who cannot but wonder when gazing upon fish swimming, jumping, and fighting their way upstream to find their way home and begin the cycle of life again? Who cannot but wonder at the amazing activity seen within a cell? Or at the amazing complexity organisms all over the world display? Or at the innocent smile of a child? Only infinite Genius could create such life, such intelligent life!
The deadly folly arising out of mankind's continuing, unrestrained greed and violence misdirects our abilities. It eliminates the wonderful possibilities of all that could collectively be achieved should we only seek to serve rather than to serve ourselves.
Though we cannot with certainty change the world around us, we can change ourselves and choose to salute life. We can then hope, and pray, for the best. I pray that more will join in and lift a glass across the table of this life, as I do, and make a toast, to the family of those who respect life and its Creator, to my friends, to you, and make a toast "To Life!"
The Hospice Patients Alliance is a 501(c)(3) charitable patient advocacy organization acting to preserve the original hospice mission and to promote quality end-of-life services.
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